Hello AzureCasts

TL;DR – Burke Holland and I created a site with short, RailsCasts-style videos devoted to solving problems for people using Azure. It’s called AzureCasts and you can see it here.

This effort has meant a lot to me as RailsCasts (my inspiration) changed my life as I was learning Ruby and Rails back in 2005. I owe a lot to its creator, Ryan Bates.

Last July (2018) I had an idea: I wanted to create a RailsCasts-style site for Azure. If you’ve read my blog for any length of time you’ll know this was an odd choice for me as I don’t use Azure. If I needed something cloudy I’d go to DigitalOcean, Heroku or, in extreme cases, AWS.

I used Google’s Cloud offering for a while (specifically Firebase) and I liked it, but for most things DigitalOcean fit the bill. Anyway: I thought learning Azure would be an interesting challenge so I registered the domain and there it sat.

Until last March.

Let’s Do This Thing!

I work at Microsoft again and have been trying to learn Azure as fast as I can. There are numerous resources out there, but I constantly found myself wishing for something more. Something like RailsCasts, but for Azure. Specifically:

  • Problem/Solution oriented. I dislike “it’s so easy just click here” videos because you blow past what they try to show you in minutes, eventually ending up in the weeds.
  • Short and to the point. I’m kind of opinionated about videos and screencasts. I like editing and I really like it when the creator obviously thinks about their audience and the value of their time.
  • Tight, high-quality production. Good audio, editing of breath, no pounding of keys – these are so distracting and make the video feel like an afterthought that was thrown together on a Saturday afternoon.

I was sharing my wishes with my coworker, Burke Holland, and I told him that I bought the domain a while ago as I wished there was something like it. That’s all I was able to say as he got really excited and just said “Let’s do it! Let’s do it!”.

I don’t think I was able to finish any sentence as he kept cutting me off: Let’s do this thing!

So we did.

Quality, Focus, and Solutions

I think Burke is tired of hearing it from me, but my pitch with this whole thing is simple:

Focus on the viewer, solve their problem.

For example: the other day a friend of mine was combing the Azure documentation and perplexed as to why there was absolutely nothing in our docs or online about how to setup a web app on Azure for free. Seems like there should be, doesn’t it?

So I dug in and made a video about it:

One of the fun things about making this video is that I discovered some really interesting stuff along the way, including how Azure synchronizes things after you push your source using Git.

That’s been a recurring theme: the more we dig, the more stuff we find and the more problems we solve. It’s really hard to fit everything into a single 15-minute-ish video!

Burke uncovered some really interesting problems when he was researching how best to handle the case when your Node app dies. This is one of my favorites because he digs into PM2, the Node process manager that Azure uses, and sets up a cluster with failover on a small instance, subverting Azure’s scaling entirely:

Help First, Sell Last

My role at Microsoft is “Cloud Advocate”, which means I solve problems for people who use Azure. This is our guiding principle: help first, sell last and I love it.

I like getting dirty, ripping the engine apart then having to figure out how to put it back together again. Another of my favorite scenes in our videos is when Burke was trying to troubleshoot Node failing to start, so he went into the App Service container source code and read, line by line, how Azure starts a web app! You can see this in episode #004: “When Node Refuses to Start“.

All of this is to say that you have my personal commitment that these videos will remain 100% sales/marketing-free. We’re not here to sell you anything – these videos exist to solve a problem that you might have and that’s it.

Production Details

We’re on a pretty loose schedule, usually pushing something every other week. We’re starting out a bit on the simple/slow side but, hopefully soon, will ramp up to solve some more complex stuff.

For instance: the other part of my job is to build things and help open source projects. I’m hoping to build out tools and things that we can give to the community – which will also present some fun complexity that will drive our videos.

We’re keeping things technically diverse. Burke loves VS Code and using extensions to work with Azure. I love the CLI! To that end you’ll see a lot more visual stuff with Burke’s videos and a bit more Unix-y command line stuff in mine.

We’re committed to keeping them under 18 minutes, ideally 15 minutes or below. We tend to edit each other pretty consistently, but each video also has a repository that you can feel free to leave comments/issues on. Even suggestions!

I also wanted to be sure that we address accessibility and those who simply don’t like videos. To address this, each video we produce has a transcript. These are actually our final scripts so there might be some variations and additional material.

We’re also taking requests! Just outline the problem you’re having and we’ll do our best to see if we can help. Ideally this won’t be a general problem like “make CosmosDB cheaper har har”.

I Could Use Your Help Too

I love making videos and helping people learn things but that comes with a pretty high risk of failure. I don’t think it’s possible to be 100% correct on anything but it’s critical to try to be as correct as possible.

So: if you find anything you think could be done better, I could really use your help! Our issues are wide open!

Hope you enjoy these!

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